How the wreck of the Costa Concordia changed an Italian island

How the wreck of the Costa Concordia changed an Italian island

GIGLIO PORTO, Italy — The sinuous granite cliffs of the Tuscan island of Giglio lay bare in the winter sun, no longer hidden by the ominous stricken cruise ship that ran aground ten years ago in the turquoise waters of this marine reserve.

Few of the fishing village’s 500 residents will ever forget the frigid night of January 13, 2012, when the Costa Concordia was shipwrecked, 32 people were killed and life on the island turned upside down for years.

“Every one of us here has a tragic memory of that time,” said Mario Pellegrini, 59, who served as Deputy Mayor in 2012 and became the first civilian to climb on the cruiser after it hit the rocks by the lighthouses at the harbor entrance.

The hospitality of the close-knit community of islanders stepped in, initially to provide basic assistance to the 4,229 passengers and crew who had to be evacuated from a tilting ship the height of a skyscraper. In no time at all, the residents of Giglio received thousands of journalists, law enforcement officers and rescue experts entering the harbor. Over the next few months, salvage teams set up camp in the picturesque harbor to work on the safe removal of the ship, an operation that took more than two years to complete.

The people of Giglio felt like family to those who spent long days in port, waiting for word from their loved ones whose bodies were trapped on the ship. On Thursday, 10 years to the day of the tragedy, the families of the victims, some passengers and Italian authorities attended a memorial mass and threw a flower crown onto the water where the Costa Concordia had rested. At 9:45 p.m., the time the ship ran aground, a candlelit procession lit up the harbor quay as church bells rang and ship sirens blared.

What stands out to many now is how the wreckage forever changed the lives of some whose paths crossed. Friendships were formed, business relationships were formed, and new families were even formed.

“It feels like since that tragic night, the lives of everyone involved were forever linked by an invisible thread,” Luana Gervasi, the niece of one of the shipwreck victims, said during Mass on Thursday, breaking her voice.

Francesco Dietrich, 48, from the eastern city of Ancona, arrived on the island in February 2013 to work with the wreck divers, “a dream job,” he said, adding: “It was like offering someone who plays football for the parish team to to participate in the Champions League with all the top teams in the business.”

His job required Mr. Dietrich to buy a lot of boat repair supplies from the only hardware store in town. It was owned by a local family and Mr Dietrich now has a 6-year-old son, Pietro, with the family’s daughter.

“It was such a shock to us,” said Bruna Danei, 42, who until 2018 worked as a secretary for the consortium that salvaged the wreckage. “Working on the Costa Concordia was in many ways a life-changing experience for me.”

A view of the Costa Concordia used by salvage teams to plan the recovery hung on the wall of the living room where her 22-month-old daughter, Arianna, played.

“She wouldn’t be here if Davide hadn’t come to work on the site,” said Ms Danei, referring to Davide Cedioli, 52, an experienced diver from Turin who came to the island in May 2012 to help out on the Costa Concordia — and who is also Arianna’s father.

From a barge, Mr. Cedioli tracked the unprecedented salvage operation that in less than a day was able to turn the 951-foot vessel, partially crushed against the rocks, from the seabed to an upright position without further endangering the underwater ecosystem that damaged it when it hit. ran aground.

“We were jumping up and down with happiness when the parbuckling was done,” recalled Mr. Cedioli. “We felt we were doing some justice to this story. And I loved this small community and the island life.”

The city council has voted to make January 13 a day of remembrance on Giglio, but after this year it will stop the public commemorations and “make it a more intimate moment, without the media,” Mr Ortelli said at mass.

“To be here ten years later brings back a lot of emotions,” said Kevin Rebello, 47, whose older brother, Russell, was a waiter on the Costa Concordia.

The remains of Russell Rebello were finally recovered three years after the shipwreck, from under the furniture in a cabin, when the ship was standing upright and being taken apart in Genoa.

“First, I feel close to my brother here,” said Kevin Rebello. “But it’s also kind of a family reunion for me – I couldn’t wait to see the Giglio people.”

Mr. Rebello hugged and greeted the residents in the streets of the harbor area, remembering how the people there had shown affection for him at the time by pouring him coffee and simply showing respect for his grief.

“The families of other victims think otherwise, but I am Catholic and I have forgiven,” explains Mr. Rebellion out.

The Costa Concordia accident caused national disgrace when it became clear that the liner’s commander, Francesco Schettino, did not immediately raise the alarm and coordinate the evacuation, instead abandoning the sinking ship.

“Come back on board!” a Coast Guard officer yelled at Mr. Schettino when he understood that the captain was in a lifeboat watching people try to escape, audio recordings of their exchange were later revealed. “Get on the bow of the ship on a rope ladder and tell me what you can do, how many people there are and what they need. Utilities!”

The officer has since pursued a successful career in politics, while Mr Schettino is serving a 16-year sentence in a Roman prison for manslaughter and for abandoning ship before the evacuation was completed. Other officials and crew members argued for lesser sentences.

During the trial, Mr. Schettino admitted he had committed “carelessness” when he decided to sail at high speed near Giglio Island to greet the family of the ship’s head waiter. The collision with the semi-submerged rock near the island caused a cut to the hull more than 70 meters long, or about 76 meters, leading to power outages on board and water flowing to the lower decks.

Mr Schettino attempted to steer the cruiser into port to facilitate evacuation, but the ship was out of control and began to tip over as it approached port, rendering many lifeboats useless.

“I can’t forget the eyes of children, terrified, and their parents,” said Mr. Pellegrini, who had boarded to speak with officials and organize the evacuation. “The metallic sound of the huge ship tilting and the lapping of the sea through the cruiser’s endless corridors.”

Sergio Ortelli, who is still the mayor of Giglio ten years later, was similarly moved. “No one can go back and cancel that senseless death of innocent people or the grief of their families,” he said. “The tragedy will always be with us as a community. It was an apocalypse for us.”

But Mr Ortelli said the accident also told a different story, that of the skilled rescuers who saved thousands of lives, and of the engineers who straightened the liner, brought it to the raft and sent it to the scrap yard.

As Giglio’s global attention shifted, residents have kept in touch with the outside world through the people who temporarily lived there.

For months Pastor Lorenzo Pasquotti, then pastor in Giglio, received parcels: dry-cleaning slippers, sweaters, and tablecloths given that evening to the cold, stranded passengers in his church returned by courier.

One summer, Father Pasquotti ate German cookies with a German couple who were passengers on the ship. They remembered the hot tea and the leftovers of Christmas treats they had that night.

“So many nationalities – the world was suddenly at our door,” he said, recalling that evening. “And, of course, we opened it up.”

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